10 Best Oahu Beaches for Snorkeling
If you are planning a trip to Oahu and you love snorkeling, you’re in luck! With 112 miles of stunning coastline, Oahu has some of the best snorkeling beaches in the world.
The island’s crystal-clear waters are home to an abundance of coral reefs, tropical fish, and sea turtles.
Whether you are an experienced snorkeler or a complete beginner, Oahu has a beach that is perfect for you. Grab your snorkeling gear and let’s explore the best Oahu Beaches for snorkeling.
Oahu Snorkeling Beaches Map
You can open this interactive Google map above to see the locations of the best beaches to snorkel in Oahu.
Best Places to Snorkel in Oahu
1. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
The calm crystal-clear waters of Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve provide the perfect setting for an underwater adventure.
It has been a protected marine life conservation area and underwater park since 1967, which makes it one of Hawaii’s most well-preserved snorkeling destinations.
The bay is sheltered by vertical crater walls and a reef that helps to keep the waters calm allowing visitors of all experience levels to enjoy snorkeling at this incredible beach.
With over 450 species of tropical fish and sea turtles, it’s easy to see why many consider this to be one of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii. Just be sure to book your tickets at least a day in advance.
2. Waimea Bay Beach Park
Waimea Bay Beach Park is located on the North Shore of Oahu. During the winter this beach is unsafe for snorkeling due to high surf and large waves, but when summer arrives the waters transform into a calm and clear paradise for snorkelers.
The bay’s clearwater and easy shallow entrance points from the sandy beach make it easy for beginners to get comfortable in the water. Experienced snorkelers can venture farther out to discover a variety of tropical fish and vibrant coral reefs.
What makes Waimea Bay Beach park such a great spot for snorkeling is the diverse marine life that can be found in its waters. Snorkelers can swim among colorful schools of fish such as yellow tang and butterfly fish.
Hawaiian green sea turtles and spinner dolphins are often spotted in the bay. While this beach can get crowded during the summer months, it’s still a great spot for snorkeling on Oahu.
3. Shark’s Cove
Located on Oahu’s famous North Shore this small rocky bay forms part of Pupukea Beach park. While the name might sound intimidating, this cove isn’t full of sharks! Instead, you will find clear blue water and an abundance of sea life.
The bay is known for being one of the best snorkeling and diving beaches in the world. The best time to visit is during summer when the surf is flat. Conditions can be dangerous during the winter.
Underwater you will find an abundance of marine life including eels, turtles, schools of tropical fish, and coral.
Since Shark’s Cove is located between the famous big wave surf spots of Waimea Bay and the Banzai Pipeline, you should make sure that there are no large swells the day you visit.
Sharks Cove is not a sandy beach, and you will have to enter the water from the rocks, so it’s best for more experienced snorkelers.
4. Ko Olina Lagoons
Ko Olina Lagoons on Oahu’s west coast, is a popular destination for beginner snorkelers and families.
Four man-made lagoons are protected by barriers that keep the waters calm and safe year-round.
The lagoons are located just steps away from popular resorts and there is a pathway that connects the lagoons.
Each lagoon is easily accessible, but since the lagoons have a sandy bottom, visibility is sometimes not that great. You can often spot tropical fish such as Angelfish, Butterfly Fish, and Reef Triggerfish.
While there are better snorkeling spots for more experienced snorkelers, if you have young children, or are a complete beginner, then the lagoons are a great option for snorkeling in Oahu.
5. Kuilima Cove
This snorkeling spot is a hidden gem on the North Shore of Oahu. The cove is protected with a rock barrier that protects it from waves. This keeps the waters in the cove calm and makes it the ideal location for beginner snorkelers or kids.
The waters of Kuilima Cove are also easy to access, as it is surrounded by a soft sandy beach. Once you enter the crystal clear water, the clarity is excellent, allowing you to see the coral flats and large rocks that make up the bottom of the cove.
It is home to a variety of tropical fish, including butterfly fish, parrot fish, damsel fish, and more. Overall, Kuilima Cove is a must-visit snorkeling spot on Oahu.
6. Turtle Canyon
Experience the thrill of snorkeling with sea turtles at Turtle Canyon. Located right off the coast of Waikiki, this area is known as a “cleaning station” where endangered sea turtles come to have their shells cleaned by small fish.
In Turtle Canyon, there will be more sea turtles than you can count, but to snorkel in this area you must book an excursion with one of the local tour companies.
Since the area is only accessible by boat the tour will take you by boat to the location, provide snorkeling gear, and explain the proper way to swim with Hawaiian sea turtles.
Overall, Turtle Canyon offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get up close and swim with these amazing creatures, making it a must-visit snorkeling spot on Oahu.
7. Queens Beach
If you are looking for a more peaceful snorkeling location away from the crowds of Waikiki then you should head to Queens Beach, also known as Sans Souci Beach.
Located just a bit further down the coast from Waikiki, this relaxing location has incredible white sand and crystal blue water. Surrounding the beach, the park area offers a grassy area lined with palm trees.
The best snorkeling is near the jetty on the far side of the beach. Here you can enjoy spotting some tropical fish in the clear waters.
Queens Beach offers an incredible snorkeling experience while in Oahu, but it is recommended to wear water shoes to not cut yourself on the rocks below.
8. Kahe Point Beach Park
Located on the west side of Oahu, Kahe Point Beach Park, also known as Electric Beach is a must-visit snorkeling location.
While the beach itself isn’t very big, the real attraction is about 700 feet offshore where warm water from a nearby power plant is discharged from underwater pipes.
It sounds unique, but the warm water attracts an abundance of marine life including eels, tropical fish, and sea turtles.
You can find this spot by following the line of rocks over the pipes, or just heading out to the area where you see other snorkelers.
While this is an incredible location for snorkeling, this is not a beginner or kid-friendly spot. Because of the long swim and cross currents, it is only safe for more experienced snorkelers.
9. Three Tables Beach
Three Tables Beach, located between Waimea Bay Beach and Püpükea Beach on the North Shore is a great spot for snorkeling.
The beach is named after three flat coral reefs that are 50 feet offshore. These reefs can sometimes be spotted at low tide.
This beach is part of the Marine Life Conservation District, which prohibits fishing, so the waters are filled with colorful fish and marine life. If you are lucky, you might even spot a sea turtle!
This beach might not be the best for beginner snorkelers or kids depending on the weather. Be aware of dangerous currents when there are larger swells.
Some trees line the beach for shade. Plus, there are several food trucks just across the street.
10. Makaha Beach
Located on the wet side of Oahu, this beach offers decent snorkeling in a larger open bay. While you won’t see a ton of tropical fish in this location, there are some live corals and you can sometimes spot sea turtles.
Makaha Beach is only recommended for more experienced swimmers. The best time to snorkel here would be in the summer. To be safe you should first check the swells before you head out.
The bay features coral and rock shelves on the north and south sides with a sandy bottom channel in the middle where currents flow inward. The primary reason for snorkeling here would be for the sea turtles.
Local Snorkeling Tips
1. Try to go snorkeling in the late morning or early afternoon. Since the wind and waves are calmer earlier in the day, this is the ideal time for snorkeling.
2. North Shore beaches have the best snorkeling conditions during the summer months when the water is not as rough (May-September). During the winter, the south shore has calmer waters.
3. In certain locations that are very rocky, you may want to bring water shoes. Also, don’t get too close to large rocks, as stronger waves could push you into the sharp rocks.
4. You should stay at least 50 yards away from spinner dolphins, and 10 feet away from sea turtles.
Things to Consider
Here are some things to consider before going snorkeling in Oahu:
Safety: Always be aware of your surroundings and never go snorkeling alone. Only snorkel in areas marked safe and obey all warning signs. Stay close to the shore and be aware of changing ocean conditions such as currents and tides.
Be careful: Weather conditions can change quickly in Oahu. It’s important to check the weather forecast before you head out. Avoid snorkeling on days with high winds or storms as this can make the water rough and dangerous.
Marine life: Oahu is home to a variety of marine life. To respect and protect the fish, sea turtles, and dolphins you should keep a safe distance. You should never disturb the coral or touch marine life.
Equipment: Bring or rent high-quality snorkeling equipment. There are many shops to rent snorkel gear from on the island, but the most well-known is Snorkel Bob’s. You can rent a complete set of gear for $9-12 for the day.
Sun protection: Consider wearing protective clothing such as a rash guard. Make sure that you use reef-safe sunscreen to keep your skin and the waters protected. (don’t forget your back)
Respect the environment: Always leave the beaches just the way you found them (or better!) Take all trash with you when you leave. Don’t take rocks, sand, flowers, or anything else you might find. They are said to contain mana (energy or life force) and if you take them local superstitions say that you could be cursed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is the safest beach to snorkel in Oahu?
The safest beaches to go snorkeling in Oahu for beginners are Hanauma Bay and the Ko Olina Lagoons. Both of these locations have calm waters and easy access from the beach.
Which beach is best for snorkeling?
While all the snorkeling beaches in Oahu are great, the beaches considered to have the best snorkeling are Hanauma Bay and Sharks Cove.
What time of day is best to snorkel in Oahu?
The best time of day to go snorkeling in Oahu is mid-morning or early afternoon. The water and winds are calmer in the mornings which makes it the ideal condition for snorkeling.
If you are looking for more information about Oahu, check out these posts.
- 25 Top Things to do for Your Oahu Bucket List
- The 10 Best Sunset Spots in Oahu
- Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for First Time Visitors (2023)
- 10 Best Places to See Sea Turtles in Oahu
- 10 Best Places to Watch the Sunrise in Oahu
Have you been snorkeling in Oahu? Feel free to comment your favorite snorkeling beach below.
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